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The Radetzky March (Everyman's Library Classics & Contemporary Classics #197) Roth, Joseph ( Author ) Oct-01-1996 Hardcover (Anglais) Relié – 1 octobre 1996
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Roth's masterpiece touches us as he deftly depicts the disillusionment that inevitably replaces the once-elevated code of honor of an outdated Empire. The book's style, that of an omniscient author reminiscent of nineteenth-century aesthetics, complements its subject. Here is a glimpse of a world where military and social rank dictate behavior, where women are seductresses regardless of social pretenses, where servants are endowed with unquestioning loyalty, where Jews live on the fringes of society yet must also subscribe to its rigorous decorum. Yet, as the exploits of the youngest von Trotta illustrate, this world has become decadent in its rigidity.
For the von Trottas, as for the Hapsburgs themselves, this discovery comes at a time when one cannot escape its consequences. For it is the rhythms of the Radetsky March, along with the portrait of the Hero of Solferino (whose heroism is not all that it was made out to be) that shaped even the youngest von Trotta and remain forever in the background, preventing a return to the family's peasant heritage and the romanticism of a more idyllic existence.
Roth's book is well worth the read. It is especially endowed with a gentle irony that bespeaks compassion without indulging in sentimentality. For those of us still trying to understand what formed the Western world of the twentieth century, it abounds with all the poignant music, imagery, and people of pre-World War I conditions in Eastern Europe.
Written in wonderfully deft and gently ironic prose, it chronicles three generations of a peasant family raised to the aristocracy through a heroic act. By choosing such protagonists, Roth is able to successfully contrast the naive, innocent faith in the monarchy of the Trottas against the actual moral and social collapse of AH society.
However, unlike many a novelist, while Roth clearly understands why citizens grew disillusioned with pre-WW I society, he also notes the price paid by those who are disillusioned. Thus, while all the flaws of Viennese society are decried (corruption, anti-Semitism, incompetence), Roth evokes a genuine sympathy for a time when faith in society still existed.
As the 20th century has been a perpetual and--given communism, fascism, nationalism et al.--failed search for some way to reconstruct the myths that held society together (which were destroyed by WW I), Roth's novel is as timely as ever.
Treat yourself to this sad, touching novel which should be far better know than it is. Roth is one novelist who saw and understood.
The Overlook version, however, has a few small flaws. The translation can sometimes be rough, although it is generally very fine. Neugroschel, the translator, leaves some words untranslated and makes some uncharacteristic translation errors. A "Rittmeister" was a captain in the Austro-Hungarian calvary, which few people would know. His soldiers play a card game called "tarot." This is not correct. As most readers know, tarot cards are a fortune-telling device. "Tarok" (with a "k") was the most popular card game among the Austrian elite in the 19th century. The editors also mislabeled the title of the cover photo, leaving out the "Franz" in "Franz Joseph I."
Moreover, the introduction by Nadine Gordimer can be a distraction. Ms. Gordimer may be a Nobel Prize winner, but she is not a scholar of pre-World War I Austria or of Austrian literature. Her introduction is merely one writer's musings on another writer. It might enhance one's understanding if one has never heard of Roth before. For those who do know him, it says nothing new. She even writes, "I am glad that, instead, I know him in the only way writers themselves know to be valid for an understanding of their work: through the work themselves." Is she speaking for herself or for all writers everywhere? Is she dismissing the entire fields of literary criticism and biography? Some of what she writes is interesting, but I am left to wonder why the introduction is there other than to boost the book's credentials. (i.e. This book is "approved" by a famous present-day author. After all, she and J. M. Coetzee, both South African Nobel Prize winners, are quoted on the back of the book, giving their stamp of approval.) A more fitting introduction would have enhanced this edition.
I am looking forward to the NEW new translation by Michael Hofmann, already available in Britain.
Atmospheric effects are so rich and details are so carefully selected that you can hear the clopping of hooves, rattling of carriage wheels, clang of sabers, and percussion of rifles. Parallels between the actions of man and actions of Nature, along with seasonal cycles, bird imagery, and farm activity, permeate the book, grounding it and connecting the author's view of empire to the reality of the land. Loyalty, patriotism, and family honor are guiding principles here, even when these values impel the characters to extreme and sometimes senseless actions, as seen in a duel.
Significantly, there are no birth scenes here, only extremely touching scenes of aging and death, adding further poignancy to the decline and fall of the empire itself. And just as Trotta, in the end, has the little canary brought in to him, commenting that "it will outlive us all," perhaps this novel, too, will someday emerge from its obscurity and live as the classic it deserves to be.